Astro 28K: Field Astronomy at Carrizo Plain

Post Trip Highlights


We camped on a juniper and grass covered 3,000 ft ridge overlooking the plains below. Jeff set up his "Cycle Works" awning to shade our wilderness kitchen and the telescopes were arrayed nearby.

Our crew relaxing while I prepare a dinner of salad and Thai basmatti rice, coconut milk, and fresh chopped veges seasoned with hot black bean sauce and served in whole wheat wraps. From left is Harmony, Blair, Christian (the big dude with the purple pants) Chris, Garth, Jay, Jim, Rebecca, Angela, Yusef, Ana, and Jeff. Karl, me, Shahram, and Ken are out of the picture.

Karl sets up the solar Hydrogen-alpha filter scope and we're treated to views of prominences of hot gases leaping from the edge of the sun. Jay captures some camcorder footage while Rebecca waits to take a look.

Rebecca examines the growing cresent of Venus in the daylit afternoon skies through the 12" computer-controlled telescope.

First stop on Saturday's explorations was the Goodwin Visitor's Center and then to Painted Rock - a sacred site filled with panels of abstract art from the Chumash tribes


The crew got up at 4am to see Comet T7 LINEAR and the new Comet Bradfield both in Pisces. Here's a link to a shot of both on the same picture frame. LINEAR was still early in its apparition and did not have much of a visible tail, but Bradfield was quite beautiful at 2nd magnitude, though faint through the muck along the horizon which blew in from Los Angeles. Later in the morning I prepared my justly famous crepe breakfast - fresh made french crepes filled with fresh fruit, yogurt, and nuts.

The grotto on the north side of the rock must have been highly valued by the Native Americans during the summer as it's the only significant shade in the entire valley.

Next stop was at Soda Lake - a unique dry lake of sodium and calcium sulfates and carbonates created when the San Andreas Fault eons ago tilted the south and then the north side of the Plains cutting off drainage

A few miles further brought us to Wallace Creek - the most dramatic example in the world of an offset stream bed, created by a successive large earthquakes over the last millenium. The class listens with rapt attention (no doubt!) as I point to the dog-leg in the stream below.


The streamlet straddled here was shifted 30 meters all at once by the Great Quake of 1857. Inspired, Rebecca and Angela create an interpretive human sculpture called "Hands Across the Pacific and North America Plates", using the crew as artistic elements. Who's that bearded fellow, not that guy from ZZ Top? Oh. that's Karl.

We examine more of the large fault-carved interior valley of the Temblor Range and almost ran over this beautiful gopher snake sunning himself on the road. I coax him out of the way, and off he goes into a gopher hole.


The graze crew watches the recording I made

Back at camp later, we feasted on another round of basmatti rice, coconut milk, fresh veges and hot black bean sauce in whole wheat wraps for dinner, followed by a drive back down to the lake for our featured astronomical event - the graze of a 9.2 magnitude star on the cresent moon. The profile was stingey and I put Jay at one promising spot while I took the very tippy top of the profile along with my TV system to show the students the events. It was an all-or-nothing gamble for multiple events. Alas, we had a small south shift and I had a miss, followed by an electrical melt-down of some of the wiring at my station. Luckily, Jay at station #2 farther south did a great job capturing the star graze two mountains on the lunar limb and also discovering that this star was a close binary. Here's a link to his 3.5Meg QuickTime .mov video file of the graze, clearly showing step-wise event on the disapearances.

At 4am next morning we made a more concerted effort to see Comet Bradfield and LINEAR. There was a low layer of haze which looked like it had come in from the south on Friday and Jay and I considered moving the whole camp, or at least driving ourselves and anyone who cared to follow partway up Mt Pinos to position Bradfield away from Bakersfield lights and get above the muck, but after a long day Saturday, opted for more sleep and hope for the best from base camp. My pictures are still in the camera, but Jay's didn't show the comet. Too bad our skies were not good in this direction, as the comet was quite beautiful in binoculars and many nice shots have been posted on Shahram really wanted to get some great pics with his new ToUcam and Celestron and took off on Saturday to drive to Lake San Antonio, where the comet was much clearer, rising over the lake. I'll post his pictures as soon as he sends them.

After one more sleep cycle, we were up and enjoying a breakfast of flax granola, vanilla soy, and lots of fresh fruit. Christian's bandwagon got hobbled when we discovered a flat tire. But the spare worked like a champ and they made it back no problem. I took the scenic route through Bitterwater Canyon, which joins up with the fault and goes through rolling hills of wildflowers for 30 miles.


Tuesday morning that week (Apr 27), I drove up to UCSC/Wilder Ranch meadow and took some piggybacked pictures of the comet and the Andromdea Galaxy on Provia 400 rising above the redwoods in a sky darkened by fog over Santa Cruz. Saturday morning May 1 Shahram and I did the same thing again - last dark view before the full entered the dawn skies. The comet had faded to magnitude 5.5 or so by then and our skies were not the crystal clean that are needed for horizon comets. But still beautiful, and Shahram's ToUcam pics show a green coma and nice tail. I hope my stacked images come out a fraction as nicely as this, shot on the same morning.

T7 LINEAR certainly got upstaged on it's one-and-only northern hemisphere big weekend. Still, some nice pics can be found here. And remember my hopes for a nice photo-op with the comet conjunction with the deep red Carbon star TX Piscium? Someone with a darker sky got it beautifully. And another picture, from Joshua Tree National Park in Southern